Cover letters

Whenever you send a résumé to a potential employer, be sure to include a carefully crafted cover letter.

Why a cover letter?

Why is a cover letter important? Like a résumé, the goal of a cover letter is to get you an interview.

But an effective cover letter communicates things your résumé can’t, including:

  • Your strong interest in the position and employer.
  • Your keen understanding of what the position entails.
  • How your skills relate to the organization’s needs, through storytelling.

While résumés are meant to inform and stick to the facts of your career history, cover letters can tell interesting stories, persuade, and showcase personality.

Your cover letter will often serve as your potential employer’s first impression of you. A well-written cover letter adds professionalism, a personal touch, and a competitive edge to your job search.

Cover letter overview

How to Write a Cover Letter

This video walks through all the necessary steps to create a successful cover letter.

Watch on Youtube

Cover Letters

The cover letter is your personal introduction to a prospective employer that outlines your interest in the position and the organization and expresses why you are qualified.

Watch on YouTube

Basic cover letter structure

[Use the same header from your résumé here. They’re a set!]

Dear [Hiring Manager Name]/Hiring Manager:

Don't use: "To Whom it May Concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam."

Introduction (1 paragraph)

  • Say why you’re writing, the specific position for which you’re applying, and how you learned of the opening. 
  • Express your knowledge of this particular organization and how your passions or interests align with its work.
  • Name why you’re a strong fit for this role, introducing the top skills you’ll discuss in the body paragraphs (think of it as your thesis for the cover letter).

Body (1-2 paragraphs)

Indicate what you can do for the employer and how you’ll make a unique contribution to the organization.

  • In each paragraph, highlight a skill/experience relevant to the position.
  • Tell the story of how you used that skill in the past, and how you can do the same for them. Use this structure to tell your stories:  
    • Problem: What was the problem/challenging situation at hand? Briefly set up the context so we can be in the room with you.
    • Action: What action did you take?
    • Results: What were the results (numbers are great!)? What did you learn from the experience?
  • Don’t just repeat the same information found in your résumé!
  • This section can be written in sentences or bullets.

Conclusion (1 paragraph)

  • Thank the employer for their time and consideration.
  • Establish your next step(s) (e.g., contacting them the following week to see if you can arrange an interview).

Sincerely,

[Your Handwritten Signature]

[Type Your Name]

Cover letter examples
Formatting basics
  • Limit to one page.
  • Format your cover letter to match your résumé (i.e., font, header, colors, etc.).
  • When emailing, send as a pdf.
Deeper dive: How to build an excellent cover letter

Cover Letters

Learn basics about creating a cover letter that gets you an interview.

Watch on YouTube

How to tailor your cover letter to a specific job

Highlight key words in the job description, paying particular attention to the Requirements/Qualifications section. (You don’t have to guess—this section is where they tell you exactly what they’re looking for!)

Ask yourself:

  1. What are the educational requirements for the job?
  2. What experience is required?
  3. What experience is preferred?
  4. What skills are required?
  5. What skills are preferred?
  6. What is the organization’s mission statement?
  7. How do you think the advertised position fits into the mission of the organization?  What role do you think it has in helping the organization meet its goals?

Match your qualifications to the employer’s needs:

  1. How does your academic background match the educational requirements?
  2. How does your experience match the responses to questions 2 and 3?
  3. How does your skill set match the responses to questions 4 and 5?
  4. What specific example(s) from your experience shows that you have demonstrated skills needed by the employer?

Employers want to know what value you will bring to the organization. Based on your response to question 7, how will you, if hired, contribute to the organization meeting its goals?

See example in sample cover letter below—end of the first paragraph.

Use the Problem-Action-Result structure discussed in the Basic cover letter structure above. See example in sample cover letter below.

Example: job description with tailored cover letter and résumé

Associate Editor, Washington

Cities Media - Seattle, WA 98109 (Queen Anne area)

TheCitiesMedia.com is currently looking for a motivated and passionate Associate EditorStart by highlighting key words in the job posting. Learn the language the employer speaks so you can use some in your materials! to join our rapidly expanding editorial team. The editor will play a major role in our growth in the Western United States with a focus on Seattle and Washington.

We are seeking a storyteller who loves Washington State and wants to express it through the creation of engaging, relatable, inspiring content.

Cities Media Editors are ambitious and independent thinkers who know what millennials care about. Our editors want Cities to be the best source of information for their communities, whether it’s breaking down new legislation, spotlighting extraordinary local figures and good deeds, or spreading the word about hidden waterfalls that everyone should visit once in their life.

Before applying, please visit our site to get a feel for what we’re looking for.

POSITION TYPE

This is an entry-level contracted position (full-time). The position is based in Seattle, but the Associate Editor must be able to work closely with writers and editors across the country. Compensation will be commensurate with experience.

ABOUT US

TheCitiesMedia.com’s goal is to inform, inspire, and entertain 18 to 39-year-olds about their world. We’re the top millennial publisher in Australia with 10 million unique users per month and we’re expanding to the U.S. this year.

RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Researching, assigning, editing, and occasionally writing articles
  • Responsible for the growth of users and pageviews in the state
  • Hiring, training and leading a team of writers
  • Ensuring all information is properly cited and factually accurate
  • Developing content strategies to ensure stable growth in your state
  • Analyzing data and analytics, and seeking to increase reader engagement and retention

REQUIREMENTS

  • Exceptional verbal and written English skills
  • 1 year of professional editing experience at a digital news publisher and a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, Communications, or a related field
  • A passion for a mix of research, data & analytics, local news, and management
  • An obsession with tight deadlines and team brainstorming
  • The ability to spot catchy, unique, inspiring angles while staying true to the Cities voice

JOSÉ GARCÍA

206-888-6653. garciaj@spu.edu | Seattle, WA. linkedin.com/josepgarcia

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Excellent written and verbal English communication skills with diverse audiences.
  • 2+ years’ editing experience at 2 digital news publishers, including managing staff.
  • Extensive experience researching and analyzing publication data to grow readership.
  • Passion for Seattle-area news and delivering millennials engaging, inspiring content.
  • Strength for meeting tight deadlines, and working well both in teams and independently.
Take time to align this section carefully with the job description so employers will read on. Use their key words!"

EDUCATION

Bachelor of Arts in Communication

June 20XX

Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA.

  • Minor in Business Administration | Overall GPA: 3.75.

Study Abroad

February - May 20XX

School for International Training, Dakar, Senegal.

  • Studied Senegalese arts and Wolof language, while living and successfully building relationships with local host family (all daily activities and coursework in French).
  • Completed 2-week independent study about life at men’s monastery, including 30-page report and presentation.

EDITING AND ANALYTICS EXPERIENCE

Seattle Weekly, Seattle, WA.

Dec 20XX-present

Digital Intern

  • Collaborate with digital editor to produce monthly digital content calendar for major weekly Seattle news and culture publication (primary audience ages 22-40).
  • Review site analytics with editor weekly, exploring strategies to grow engagement.
  • Brainstorm strategies with digital team of 6 weekly to produce relatable, inspiring content about Seattle life, particularly focused on millennials.
  • Edited site independently for one week, editing and uploading articles for 6 writers, composing headlines to SEO standards, managing social media (Twitter & Instagram).
  • Write 3-4 news, arts, and culture articles for SeattleWeekly.com each week, meeting all deadlines. Articles get average of 1,800 unique pageviews per week.

The Falcon: Seattle Pacific University’s Independent Student Newspaper, Seattle, WA.

Editor-in-Chief

September 20XX-present

  • Manage team of 18 writers for bi-weekly digital university newspaper, mentoring them to write engaging, relatable, clear content for student body, meeting all deadlines.
  • Examine site and social media analytics with staff weekly, developing content strategies to increase engagement and retention; have increased readership 15% during editorship.
  • Host bi-monthly 30-minute podcasts about major local issues affecting students.

News Editor

September 20XX-June 20XX

  • Managed news staff and edited engaging, relatable articles bi-weekly for 3-5 writers.

ADDITIONAL MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCE

M.E.Ch.A at Seattle Pacific University, Vice President, Seattle, WA.

September 20XX-present

  • Managed activities for club promoting awareness and involvement in Spanish and Latino community and culture.

Rainier Youth Camp, Teen Boys Counselor, Seattle, WA.

Summers 20XX, 20XX

JOSÉ GARCÍA

206-888-6653. garciaj@spu.edu | Seattle, WA. linkedin.com/josepgarcia

14 September 20XX

 

Marilyn Smith
All Cities Editor
Cities Media
555 Blumark Ave, Unit 101
NewYork, NY 10001

Dear Marilyn Smith:

I’m excited to apply for the Associate Editor, Washington position for Cities Media posted on Indeed.com

Paragraph 1:
  • Express enthusiasm for job
  • State interest/passion that aligns with organization's values
  • Introduce 2 top skills you'll discuss in letter
. My passion is sharing engaging Seattle-area news with millennials in a clear, relatable way. I think I’m an excellent fit for this role because of my 2 years of team management experience as a digital editor, and my extensive background using research and analytics to grow publication readership.

To start, my depth of team management experience would enable me to effectively hire and lead a team of writers to produce engaging content for local millennials. As one example, as editor-in-chief of The Falcon university newspaper for the last year, I’ve been responsible for leading the staff of 18 to produce quality content weekly for our diverse student body of 4,000. With our staff’s wealth of different backgrounds and perspectives, I knew that we could offer SPU students much more value if we planned content together than if I did it alone. Therefore, at the beginning of last year, I met with each writer individually to learn more about their writing interests, and engaged them in weekly team brainstorming meetings where we assigned articles together. In June, the staff told me they felt valued by the team and empowered to grow and express themselves fully at The Falcon. In addition, our readership that year increased 15%. 

Paragraphs 2–3: In each of your 2 middle paragraphs, tell a story to showcase a skill mentioned in paragraph 1. Use the Problem, Action, Result structure. Don't just repeat your resume; give more details to bring the reader "in the rooom" of the experience with you.

Furthermore, my passion for research and background using data and analytics to expand publication readership would help me excel as your Associate Editor for Washington. For example, as a digital intern at Seattle Weekly, I got the opportunity to edit the site independently for a week this summer while the digital editor was away. I was responsible for editing and uploading articles by 6 writers each day, as well as managing Twitter and Instagram accounts. When I noticed that several articles posted in the morning were not receiving as many views as I’d expected, I changed the headlines midday to align more closely with SEO standards, and saw increased traffic in the afternoon. I also modified my social media posting times to promote more engagement, which increased 30% by the end of the week.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration. Please let me know if you have any questions, and I will email you next week to see if we can schedule an interview.

Paragraph 4: Thank the employer. Let them know you will follow up to request to schedule an interview.

Sincerely, 

José García

Common cover letter mistakes
  • Too generic: Not tailoring for specific job.
  • Failing to show evidence of employer research and knowledge of job.
  • Tries to include too much. Reads like a “greatest hits” from the résumé, rather than painting a picture (through stories) of skills you can bring them.
  • Focusing on what you need or want versus what you can contribute.
  • Spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Repeating information.
  • Making it too brief or too wordy.
  • Omitting contact information.

Tip: Read your cover letter out loud. This can help you catch awkward phrasing.